Can the accused Donald Trump vilify prosecutors or potential prosecution witnesses at will? A US federal appeals court appeared Monday inclined to reinstate restrictions on the ex-president’s speech at his federal trial in Washington.
• Read also: Former US first lady Rosalynn Carter dies at 96
• Read also: Colorado court rejects request to exclude Trump from ballots
The federal trial of the current Republican primary frontrunner for his alleged illicit maneuvers to overturn the results of the 2020 election will begin on March 4, 2024. Judge Tanya Chutkan, who will preside over the proceedings, issued a ban in October to the parties any public comments “targeted” at prosecutors, court staff and witnesses in this case.
He was therefore forbidden from calling prosecutor Jack Smith a “crazy” and his colleagues “thugs” or from publicly attacking potential witnesses, but the favorite of the Republican primaries could continue to lash out against his Democratic successor. Joe Biden and accuse his administration of using justice to eliminate him from the race for the White House in 2024.
The three judges of the federal appeals court in Washington, seized by Mr. Trump, expressed their skepticism about the arguments of both the defense and the prosecution for more than two hours, suggesting that they could reinstate these restrictions, suspended while the merits are decided, but by tightening them significantly.
“There is a very difficult balance to find in this context”, between the need to “protect the integrity and fact-finding function of this criminal procedure and that of using a scalpel so as not to alter the arena political,” summed up one of the judges.
Pressed with questions, Donald Trump’s lawyer, John Sauer, stuck to his positions, contesting almost any validity at the slightest limit to his client’s expression. Such restrictions, he half-heartedly conceded, would have to be justified by “extraordinarily conclusive evidence, at the very least.”
“There is almost total overlap between the issues in the file and those in the political campaign,” he said.
“Threats and intimidation”
But one of the prosecutors, Cecil VanDevender, pointed to “a very clear pattern and dynamic, in which as a result of repeated incendiary personal attacks by the defendant against an individual, that individual was subjected to threats and intimidation” by supporters of the ex-president.
The Court of Appeal nevertheless showed itself to be skeptical of the distinction, too tenuous in its eyes, established between prosecutors and the Ministry of Justice, on which they depend.
She also questioned the criteria for determining what statements were permissible to Mr. Trump about potential witnesses, in the case of figures or officials who have publicly criticized him, such as his former chief of staff or his former Minister of Justice.
To clarify the scope of these restrictions, Judge Chutkan cited a comment in which the ex-president considered on his Truth Social network the possibility that his last chief of staff, Mark Meadows, would testify against him in exchange for an offer of immunity by special prosecutor Jack Smith, who is investigating this case.
Behavior worthy of “weak and cowardly”, according to Donald Trump. “I don’t think Mark Meadows is one of them, but who knows?” he concluded. This type of attack on a potential witness would certainly fall under the ban, the judge explained.
The debates also focused on the exact definition of the word “aim”, described as “vague” by the defense.
Even the influential civil rights organization ACLU, little suspected of sympathy for the ex-president, against whom it railed throughout his mandate, denounced a decision which “rests entirely on the meaning of the word “target “”, considering it “ambiguous”.
The date on which the decision will be rendered is not known.